So this is 2012 eh? Only three more years and I’ll be able to hoverboard to work! (Shut up, a guy can dream).

2011 was an interesting year that taught me a lot of things. Some of these things were blog and movie related, others were personal and hopefully will help me become a better person. The year introduced me to a lot of great new friends, and brought me closer to many old friends. There were some sad moments, some angry moments, but most of all there were happy moments. Those happy moments are what I cling to – especially now. This is the time of year to be positive, and to look forward with hope and the belief in what’s possible. After all, tomorrow isn’t just “another day” as a heroine once said, it’s another year.

This year, my taste and habit took a bit of turn. I started looking further down the list for what I wanted to spend my time and money on at the cinema, and for that I was largely rewarded. That’s not to say that I’ve turned my back on the mainstream – far from it! I still want my popcorn movies, and I want to have fun watching them. Thankfully, 2012 seems to have quite a few goodies in the mainstream to offer.

But before we get to the adventures of Catniss Everdeen, Bruce Wayne, and Bilbo Baggins, let’s take one last moment to look back on 2011. I saw a lot of deeply memorable movies this year – these five will stay with me the longest…

Ryan’s Top Five Films of 2011

#5. THE MUPPETS… In trying to decide which films to dub the year’s best, I resort to emotional connection. There are many films that are solid offerings and will hold up to the test of time – but those aren’t my focus.

I want to focus on the films that brought me great joy, brought me to tears, or in the case of THE MUPPETS brought me both. Of the five films that make up my Class of 2011, this is by far the most flawed. But, in a manner befitting its joyful cast, it parlayed those flaws into something heartfelt, entertaining, and inspiring. What cannot be undervalued about this film, is the wonderful way it fits with the first three Muppets film. It’s as if the script had been around for years, and just needed  the perfect moment to be taken out of the vault. This whole year has been about a Muppet renaissance, and oddly it wasn’t geared at kids so much as it was the adults who loved them as kids, and maybe needed to feel like kids again.

(Full MUPPETS review here)

#4. WAR HORSE… I’d wager that I’m deeply in the minority on loving this film as much as I do, but I can’t dispute the emotional reaction I felt during this film’s final two-thirds. Steven Spielberg can chalk this up as a return to form, even if it’s not a new masterpiece in his cannon. Spielberg realizes that it’s possible to depict the horrors of war even without an R rating: Sometimes all it takes is a shot of a charging horse that has lost its rider. This movie takes a touching approach to showing us life during The Great War…for those who would lead it, those who would fight it, and those who’d have their daily lives ripped apart by it.

In an aside from what happens on-screen, I continue to be perplexed by the sight-unseen venom this movie continues to get from the collective (Admittedly, the film is marketed poorly). Take a moment and breathe people: It’s based on a well-recieved book that’s been turned into an award-winning play. You might be surprised by what the film has to offer.
(Full WAR HORSE review here)

#3. THE SKIN I LIVE IN… This was the only film of my five that didn’t play on nostalgia. Instead it kicked me in the nuts and stood over me laughing.

I’m ten years into my Almodovar literacy, and I have arrived at a conclusion: The man’s films will always be varying levels of great. Originally, I was told that this would be a horror film, and even though it’s not straight-up horror, what he has given us was so deliciously twisted and 100% unexpected. The man understands melodrama like few others, and his reunion with Antonio Banderas was well worth the wait. Note to Pedro: Now cast Antonio and Penelope Cruz in a future film. I fear that for many, this was a film that flew under the radar. Oscar buzz isn’t going to help it, since Spain has chosen not to submit it as its Oscar entry for Best Foreign Film. Hopefully people catch up with it when it hits DVD/Blu-Ray in March.

(Full SKIN I LIVE IN review here)

#2. THE ARTIST… As THE ARTIST’s stock has risen, a lot of voices have banded together to tell people what it’s not. I prefer to use my voice to tell you what it is. It’s elegant, it’s intelligent, and it’s charming. It doesn’t want to be the next great silent film so much as it wants to honour and evoke the era. It highlights a wonderful pair of performers who, in an attention deficient era cn command a crowd’s attention without saying a word. There have been other silent films that made the rounds on the festival circuit in the last decade so the fact that this movie was able to catch on with a broader audience should say something about its wit and its ability to transcend.

Quite simply, it’s a sign that you don’t need to dazzle your audience with trickery: You just need to win them over with moxie.

(Full ARTIST review here)

#1. THE TREE OF LIFE… Pretentious bugger, ain’t I? Admittedly, declaring THE TREE OF LIFE to be the best film I saw this year might cement my status as an elitist movie snob. If that’s the case, fit me for my ascot now. Jokes aside, the film tops my list for one main reason – in all of my moviegoing life, and certainly in my hardcore moviegoing life of the last ten years, I’ve never seen anything like this film. It’s not all that interested in telling us a story – it’s more interested in asking us questions. It does so with quiet philosophy, it does so with bombastic music, and it does so with some of the most stunning imagery ever put on film.

THE TREE OF LIFE isn’t so much a movie as it is cinematic poetry, or a cinematic symphony. It is something unconcerned with structure, and instead interested in letting every viewer’s thoughts wander to someplace different. Going back to the trend of nostalgia, it sends us to those different places by reminding us of the big questions we asked ourselves when we were all children of a certain age.

This is a film of elegance, and a film that dared to try something different. I can completely understand why viewers wouldn’t like it, and even how viewers could fully loathe it. Not only can I understand those positions, but I wouldn’t even argue them that they are wrong for seeing it so. Like a lot of great art, THE TREE OF LIFE is divisive – but I know which side of the dividing line I stand on.

For being so very different and so very, very beautiful, THE TREE OF LIFE takes the spot as the top film of the year for me.
(Full TREE OF LIFE review here)


What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts on the list, and your own selections for the best films of 2011.